NCCS Covid-19 testing center
The Department of Biotechnology, Government of India, established the National Centre for Cell Science (NCCS) in 1986 as an autonomous institution, to facilitate cell biology research in the country.
NCCS, located within the campus of the Savitribai Phule Pune University (SPPU), has been performing cutting-edge research in cell biology, supporting human resource development through various teaching and training programs, and providing valuable services as a national animal cell repository. In diverse fields of cell biology, especially those addressing human health issues like infectious diseases, metabolic disorders, regenerative medicine, and cancer, NCCS had been at the forefront of basic research.
The scientists at NCCS gained worldwide recognition through publications in renowned scientific journals and awards, including Shanti Swarup Bhatnagar Awards, Padma Shree, Swarnajayanti Fellowship, and National Bioscience Award.
Now, at this crucial time of coronavirus pandemic, NCCS is playing a significant role as one of the COVID-19 testing centers in India. As the number of infected individuals started rising in India, especially in the state of Maharashtra, NCCS was designated as a COVID-19 testing center on 2nd April 2020, with the due approval of ICMR, DBT, and the state government of Maharashtra.
To ensure that the tests are conducted in compliance with appropriate safety and quality standards, the scientists and staff at the NCCS were given training in COVID-19 diagnostics and biosafety by the ICMR-NIV. A team of fifteen scientists and staff were given the biosafety training, while a group of ten including technical staff and scientists received training in COVID-19 testing. Extensive preparations, including testing kits, PPE, and other supplies were made.
On 25th April 2020, NCCS initiated testing samples for the novel coronavirus SARS-CoV-2, after successfully conducting a mock test. As of 21st May 2020, the center tested more than 2000 samples. Although NCCS was testing a smaller number of samples, in the beginning, it is now capable of testing over a hundred samples a day.
NCCS is also providing assistance in setting up COVID-19 testing labs to other research institutions like IISER, CSIR-NCL, and ARI.
Besides testing for SARS-CoV-2, NCCS is also involved in other research activities related to COVID-19. The scientists at NCCS succeeded in generating neutralizing human monoclonal antibodies against SARS-CoV-2. The research center is now collaborating with PredOmix Technologies Pvt. Ltd., Bharat Biotech International Ltd. & AFMC, Pune, and IIT Indore for this initiative.
With a view to exploring vaccine candidates for COVID-19, NCCS has also initiated research on developing a machine learning (ML) model, based on the datasets of patients from the USA, India, Wuhan, and Italy. Their studies could help in identifying the viral sequences which have evolved with time. And those sequences could be used to design peptides with different amino acid combinations that are effective against the novel coronavirus. They are hoping to develop peptides that can act on diverse COVID-19 variants and provide cross-protection even if small genetic variations are found.